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With a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in international affairs, I used to be pretty religious (no pun intended) about watching and reading the news.
I subscribed to the motto laid out in the Baha’i writings to:
Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 213.
The problem, however, is that keeping up with the news these days often makes me anxious–or angry and depressed. That’s not always true, of course. To be fair, some upbeat feature stories do address advances in science, education and human decency. There are a lot of good things, and cooperative endeavors, happening in the world. Unfortunately, they’re rarely reported by most news media. The focus, instead, is on a polarized political battles that border on the absurd; sickening acts of violence; and morals degenerating “to an extreme degree,” per the forecast of one of the Baha’i Faith’s early leaders. Oh yes, and then there’s the increasing threat of nuclear annihilation!
We can’t ignore the world around us—but it’s hard to endure a barrage of negative news every day and still retain your sanity.
I’m probably not alone in my desire to crawl into a cave and, admittedly, that may be one of the reasons my husband and I have recently opted to move to the desert. Perhaps that’s why Christ’s 40 days in the desert, Muhammad’s time in the caves of Mount Hira, or Baha’u’llah’s own self-imposed exile in the remote mountains of Kurdistan for two years make increasing sense to me. Baha’u’llah wrote:
We betook Ourselves to the wilderness, and there, separated and alone, led for two years a life of complete solitude. From Our eyes there rained tears of anguish, and in Our bleeding heart there surged an ocean of agonizing pain. Many a night We had no food for sustenance, and many a day Our body found no rest. By Him Who hath My being between His hands! Notwithstanding these showers of afflictions and unceasing calamities, Our soul was wrapt in blissful joy, and Our whole being evinced an ineffable gladness. For in Our solitude, We were unaware of the harm or benefit, the health or ailment, of any soul. Alone, We communed with Our spirit, oblivious of the world and all that is therein. – The Book of Certitude, pp. 250-251.
Understanding that his destiny was to unite the Babi community and, eventually, to proclaim his own divine message and Faith, Baha’u’llah returned to Baghdad after his two-year sojourn.
These historical facts have a message for me today: while retreating from the world is not really a permanent solution, we do need to fortify our own souls to face a world that has largely turned away from God’s laws and a spiritual life, and is suffering the consequences of that choice.
What such retreats look like may be different for everybody. For me, it means hikes in the surrounding mountains, having some kind of meditation practice, not watching violent films, ensuring that I have times when I am completely disconnected from technology, and, yes, not paying rapt attention to the news every day.
What are your restorative practices?
Because I live near Phoenix, Arizona, I have a daily reminder of the importance of renewal—namely, the mythological phoenix associated with the Sun—which obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. The phoenix symbolizes renewal.
Admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to figure out how to pull oneself out of the ashes–and a constant negative, depressing spiral of news doesn’t help–but the following Baha’i prayer offers some reassurance and perspective:
O God, my God! The gloom of night hath shrouded every region, and all the earth is shut away behind thick clouds. The peoples of the world are sunk in the black depths of vain illusions, while their tyrants wallow in cruelty and hate.… O my Lord, the lamps of guidance have gone out. The flames of passion are mounting high, and malevolence is ever gaining on the world. Malice and hate have overspread the face of the whole earth, and I find no souls except Thine own oppressed small band who are raising up this cry:
Make haste to love! Make haste to trust! Make haste to give! To guidance come! Come ye for harmony! To behold the Star of Day! Come here for kindliness, for ease! Come here for amity and peace! Come and cast down your weapons of wrath, till unity is won! Come and in the Lord’s true path each one help each one. Verily, with exceeding joy, with heart and soul, do these oppressed of Thine offer themselves up for all mankind in every land…. O my Lord, wing them with victory that they may soar upward to salvation, strengthen their loins in service to Thy people, and their backs in servitude to Thy Threshold of Holiness.… – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 273.